Southern Living - October 2004
Southern Living - October, 2004
Deanna Sirlin won international acclaim after her swirling images graced the windows of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.
Southern Living – October, 2004
Four years ago, Deanna Sirlin transformed the pristine white atrium of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art into a kaleidoscope of color, light, and shapes. Combining oldfashioned painting with the latest digital technology, she magnified her abstract images by a power of 50 and inserted them into 165 windows of the High’s spiraling, multilevel atrium. At night the magic-lantern glow of the vivid creations would stop traffic.
“People who had never set foot inside the museum stopped to look,” Deanna says. Since then, the artist’s work has garnered attention throughout Georgia and the world, with permanent installations and paintings scattered from Atlanta and Macon to Venice, Italy.
Uptown and Down on the Farm
Deanna’s vivacious personality translates into her dynamic paintings. Her bold canvases throb with Baroque curves and swirls, laid on in thick, confident brushstrokes. Her shapes, vaguely planetary in form, seem charged with elemental energy, while the colors are almost unearthly. The astringent scent of turpentine permeates her simple studio on her horse farm in Alpharetta, where several easels display works in process.
Famous for her use of color, Deanna favors vibrant hues–carnelian reds, incandescent oranges, cobalt blues, and supernatural greens. When magnified 50 times, pierced with natural light, and writ large across grandiose architecture, these colors grow even more intense.
Deanna says her 1999 show, “Retracings,” at the High Museum proved pivotal to her career. For the first time, she experimented with digital technology that enabled her to render her site-specific work on a monumental scale.
“The idea for the High installations came to me when I was visiting the museum and contemplating the atrium space and its painting-size windows,” she says. Her proposal, selected from among 150 artists’ submissions, was risky because, she confesses, “at the time I wasn’t even sure that it could be executed, technically speaking.” Piece by piece, the original paintings were scanned, digitized, magnified, and printed onto clear transparencies. The results filtered washes of brilliant color and light, like stained glass, onto the floors and walls of this modern temple of art. So popular was Deanna’s “Retracings” that the High extended the exhibit for several months.
Looking With Fresh Eyes
Deanna’s fusion of paint with technology opened entirely new creative realms and forced her to look at her work in a different way. “I had ideas I couldn’t execute without new technology,” she says. “The computer revealed to me how I paint. My brush might have 15 different colors on it at one time, but the naked eye can’t see that. It mixes everything into one. The computer can see all these different colors–it’s a revelation.”
The magnified images also emphasize the physicality of painting, drawing the viewer in, she says. When single brushstrokes are rendered on a 4-foot scale, it’s human nature to want to touch the thick, textural swirls of paint.
“I don’t think a painting can just sit quietly on the wall anymore. I want it to surround you, to envelope you. I want to let you into my paintings. I want you to feel the way that I did when I first entered Giotto’s chapel in Padua, Italy–enveloped by the paintings and the space. It’s ecstasy.”
Deanna’s next big installation project, completed in 2001, incorporated her paintings into the glass entryway of a 13th-century Gothic palazzo, belonging to Ca’Foscari, the University of Venice. The 18- x 18-foot installation actually allows visitors to enter and exit through her painting. Called Punto di Fuga (or Vanishing Point), the title plays with the notion of magical thresholds as well as the scientific study of perspective.
“Venice is light and color, so it made perfect sense to install one of my works there,” she says. The architecture of the ancient palazzo contrasts nicely with her symphonic shapes and colors. “Architecture has always been a silent partner in my installation works.”
At the urging of an Italian gallery owner, Deanna returned to Venice to work in a new medium with one of the maestros of Venetian glassmaking. She learned techniques jealously guarded for centuries by the glass studios in Murano. The collaboration produced beautifully modern sculptures that translate the color, light, and energy of her paintings into three-dimensional but still translucent forms.
At Home in Atlanta
Although well received by the international art community, Deanna is most grateful for the support closer to home. A Brooklyn, New York, native but Atlanta resident for the past 17 years, she considers herself an honorary Southerner. “When I moved here, I felt instantly at home,” she says. “There’s a beautiful attitude in Atlanta toward the arts. But,” she adds, “the fact that I keep my grits in the freezer probably distinguishes me from a true Southerner.”